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An interview: Court TV draws new attention to 1996 vampire cult-related murders in Eustis


The court case involving a 1996 vampire cult-related double homicide in Eustis will be featured 8 p.m. Sunday on Court TV's "Judgement with Ashleigh Banfield."

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Former vampire cult leader Rod Ferrell is serving life sentences for two murders. Image: FDOC[/caption]

The cult leader is serving two life sentences at Tomoka state prison.

Veteran reporter Frank Stanfield was interviewed for the program and is writing a book on the case. He spoke with me over the phone.

Stanfield's book -- tentatively called "The Mind of a Vampire" -- is out later this year. 

And a warning: This story contains details from the case that some listeners may find disturbing. 

WMFE: In a nutshell, Frank, who is Rod Ferrell, and what were the vampire murders?

FRANK STANFIELD: Rod Ferrell was a 16-year-old kid from Kentucky and once lived in Eustis, Florida. And he formed this vampire cult. They were they drinking blood, and they came down to Florida to pick up one of their cult members and killed her parents

WMFE: Ashleigh Banfield's program focuses on the court case, right? How did Ferrell's case shake out in court?

FRANK STANFIELD: It was an amazing thing. I have covered the courts for years. And, of course, Court TV covered it live. This case made international news. so there was a German TV crew there. It was just kind of a crazy thing. All the local media, of course, were there. They set up a special press room for everybody to, to be able to cover the trial. It was kind of a three-ring circus, really.

WMFE: Did Ferrell really think he was a vampire?

FRANK STANFIELD: At one time, his close friend, one of his close friends, said, yes, he actually believed it. But I think in a lot of cases he just wanted to believe. He was fascinated with the lifestyle, and he convinced all these others. He was able to manipulate other people to join his group, because they were fascinated by what he was saying.

WMFE: I know that a lot of the references to this case say "blood-drinking." Did Ferrell really drink human blood?

FRANK STANFIELD: Yes, they did. They all drank each other's blood. They didn't drink the blood of the victims, the murder victims. The girls were not even in the house when the murder happened, but, yes, they did this ritual thing where they drank each other's blood. And they, they said it made them feel, have senses they didn't feel and all this kind of jazz. It was crazy.

WMFE: I think that brings up another topic, which is sort of the mental health question. Was that a big part of the case?

FRANK STANFIELD: It was a huge part of the case because Rod Ferrell came from an extremely dysfunctional family. His mother even got involved in this cult for a while. So the defense of course is, Oh, he had such a warped sense of reality because his family was so crazy. And the allegation was that he had been raped as a small child by his grandfather's friends in some sort of ritual activity. So that was part of the mental health aspect.

WMFE: Now Frank I know you're writing a book on this case and you touched on it in an earlier book, "Vampires, Gators and Wackos: A Newspaperman's Life. Is it true that Central Florida is basically ground zero for bizarre crime?

FRANK STANFIELD: (Chuckle) It is a ground zero for bizarre things. I mean, people in Orlando -- I was working for the Orlando Sentinel at the time -- and people from the Sentinel would call and say what's going on in Lake County, which is like the next county up, about 45 miles away? And I said, Well, we don't have as many murders and so on as you do. But what we do is the most bizarre crazy things and most hideous things you can imagine sometimes. It really defies the imagination.


Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.